Stakeholders group backs Tongass land exchange

Associated PressSeptember 14, 2012 

KETCHIKAN -- The Tongass National Forest stakeholders' group known as the Tongass Futures Roundtable has voted to support a proposed land exchange in Southeast Alaska.

The Tongass Futures Rountable voted Thursday to support the land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. The deal involves nearly 39,000 acres of federal and Mental Health Trust lands, according to the Ketchikan Daily News.

As proposed, the exchange includes about 20,900 acres of federal land in the Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island area, and about 18,060 acres of Mental Health Trust tracts around Ketchikan, Meyers Chuck, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka and Juneau.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority is a state corporation that administers the Alaska Mental Health Trust, a perpetual trust that operates much like a private foundation. It uses its resources, including land resources, to provide mental health services to its beneficiaries.

Tongass supervisor Forrest Cole said the agency will work with the trust to do a federal environmental assessment on the exchange. He said the swap was first proposed by the Forest Service in January but has been modified significantly since then.

Paul Slenkamp of the Trust Land Office agreed.

"It's been a long negotiation on many levels," Slenkamp said.

Driving the proposed land exchange is the Trust's interest in exchanging parcels of undeveloped land it owns in sensitive areas in or near in several communities of Southeast Alaska with Forest Service lands that can generate revenue for its beneficiaries.

According to the land exchange proposal presented Thursday, the potential Trust selections are located outside of large old-growth reserves and areas of "known large-scale subsistence use."

A parcel of concern identified by the roundtable group is the approximately 540-acre tract on the north end of Gravina Island. A mining company has expressed interest in building a tailings mill on the island.

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